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Sad Sports, Volume II: Buffalo

Sad Sports, Volume II: Buffalo

Sports run the gamut of emotion, delighting and destroying the human spirit. In honor of the latter—and grief-stricken sports fans everywhere—we present Sad Sports, Volume II: Buffalo.

Join writer George Perry as he takes us on a journey through the eyes of a sad Buffalo sports fan. May another person’s misery bring you joy on this day!

Go ahead and say it. It’s okay, we know. Blizzards and losing. That’s what comes to mind when you think about Buffalo. You don’t even need to say anything about sports. We’re the city that gets all the blizzards and lost, like, what was it . . . four Super Bowls in a row?

Buffalo Bills' kicker Rian Lindell on the football field in a blizzard waiting to resume play
Buffalo Bills’ kicker Rian Lindell waits for snow to be removed during the NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Orchard Park, N.Y. Buffalo won 30-7. Image via Don Heupel/AP/Shutterstock.

Yep, four Super Bowls in a row. And, two (non-consecutive) Stanley Cups, one of which was stolen by the league and handed to Dallas. And, some other sad stories that don’t mean as much to non-Buffalonians.

And yes, the blizzards. Not to be confused with the Buffalo Blizzardwe actually named an indoor soccer team after our most famous recurring weather event.

Like a lot of our non-major league teams, the Blizzard passed into history much more quietly than the average January blizzard. Even today, way more people talk about the Blizzard of ‘77 than the Buffalo Blizzard.

But hey, don’t forget one thing: wings. We’ve got the wings, which have consoled generations of fans through every renewal of Buffalo’s sad sports history.

The store front of the Anchor Bar - famous for their Buffalo-style wings
The Anchor Bar is credited with inventing “Buffalo-style” wings fifty years ago. Image via Don Heupel/AP/Shutterstock.

Now, about those sad moments . . .

1. Super Bowl XXV: Wide Right

Buffalo Bills' kicker Scott Norwood kicking and missing a field goal during Super Bowl 25
Buffalo Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood (center) misses the field goal on the last play of the game, clinching the victory for the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. The Giants won 20-19. Image via Phil Sandlin/AP/Shutterstock.

Super Bowl XXV opened with a landmark of American cultural history: Whitney Houston’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It ended with a sadly memorable moment in American sports history: Wide Right.

Even Buffalo Bills fans born after January 27, 1991, know what the words “Wide Right” mean. They know what to do when they hear them, toosigh, shake their heads dejectedly, say something like: “Man, that’s where it all started.”

Non-Buffalonians know, too. For them, it normally produces a chuckle or a baffled gasp: “How did he miss that?” Followed by: “And, it went even further downhill after that.”

Buffalo Bills' kicker Scott Norwood is pictured walking off the football field in dismay after missing a field goal
Buffalo Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood walks off the field in dejection after missing a 47-yard field goal on the last play of the game, clinching a 20-19 victory for the New York Giants, in Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. Image via Chris O’Meara/AP/Shutterstock.

If you’re not a Buffalo fan, before you start laughing and snarking, consider this counter-factual: Scott Norwood’s punt sails through the uprights, and the Bills win. As a result, the Cleveland Browns do not appoint the Giants’ defensive coordinator as their head coach the next season. This delays, hinders, stymies, or otherwise butterfly effects that man’s career trajectory, and Bill Belichickthe Giants’ defensive coordinator at Super Bowl XXVdoesn’t lead the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl titles.

New York Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick reviewing plays with his coaches in preparation for Super Bowl 25
New York Giants’ defensive coordinator Bill Belichick (center) goes over the defensive game plan with other coaches, getting ready for Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills in Tampa. Image via AP/Shutterstock.

Laugh at Scott Norwood all you want, but Belichick has dashed many more dreams of fans across the NFL than Norwood did. Twenty-five years of football history may have hinged on “Wide Right.”

2. 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: No Goal

Dallas Stars' right wing Brett Hull is shooting the winning goal past two defenders to win the Stanley Cup
With one skate in the crease, Dallas Stars’ right wing Brett Hull (22) shoots the Stanley Cup winning goal past the sprawling Buffalo Sabres’ goalie Dominik Hasek (39) in the third overtime period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Buffalo, N.Y. Image via Gene Puskar/AP/Shutterstock.

Video review was next-gen technology one or two gens ago. Everyone knew there’d be hiccups and lessons learned the hard way in implementation, but come on, we were still dialing in at the time.

In retrospect, it’s amazing it worked as well as it did. But, like any tool or tech, it could only be as good as the people who use it and the purposes for which they use it.

People like the NHL administrators, referees, and video judges. And, purposes like the skate-in-the-crease rule.

If parsing apart arcane texts from earlier eras is your thing, have at it. We’re not going to do that here. The thing to know is that the rule and the video review process had been enforced rigorously, assiduously, consistently, as far as anyone knows unanimously, throughout the 1998/99 season. Skates in creases took dozens of goals off the scoreboard, right up until the third overtime of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

In the early hours of the day, after the opening face-off in Buffalo’s Marine Midland Arena, the Dallas Stars’ Brett Hull put the puck into the Sabres’ net while he had one skate in the crease.

For maybe the first time all season, there weren’t expectant glances at the referee, wondering if he saw something no none else did; no restrained celebrations, knowing that a review was pending; the referee didn’t dash to the bat phone between the penalty boxes to talk to the guys upstairs. Just the unrestrained celebration of a team that won the Stanley Cup in triple overtime.

Dallas Stars' Brett Hull raising his arms in celebration after scoring the winning goal of the Stanley Cup
Dallas Stars’ Brett Hull (22) raises his arms after scoring the game-winning goal on Buffalo Sabres’ goalie Dominik Hasek, in the third overtime of Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup Finals in Buffalo, N.Y. Image via Charles Krupa/AP/Shutterstock.

The player who had the closest view of the play immediately knew something was amiss, which he confirmed when he got into the locker room and saw the replay for himself.

Sabres’ goaltender Dominik Hasek tried to make sense of the fact that not only did the goal stand, but it wasn’t even reviewed. “Maybe [the video goal judge] was in the bathroom. Maybe he was sleeping. Maybe he doesn’t know the rule,” he said.

Buffalo Sabres' goalie Dominik Hasek on the ice looking at the score board in disbelief at the finale of the Stanley Cup
Buffalo Sabres’ goalie Dominik Hasek looks up at the score board as the Dallas Stars wait to receive the Stanley Cup following the Sabres’ Game 6, triple overtime loss in Buffalo, NY. Image via David Duprey/AP/Shutterstock.

It’s easy to dismiss that as the venting of a dejected player or sore loser, but it was a real possibility. The skate-in-the-crease rule was so ambiguously written and contentiously applied that the NHL sent four memos throughout the season attempting to clarify things for the officials and teams.

And, the league knew it was such a failure that scrapping it and starting over was already on the agenda at the NHL Board of Governors’ meeting a week later.

Had Hull’s goal been overturned, the Sabres still would have had to win that game, and then win Game 7 in Dallas. This wasn’t like Super Bowl XXV, where the play in question was a direct matter of win or lose. Or, Buffalo’s first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 1975.

Driving around Buffalo over twenty years later, you’ll still see some “No Goal” bumper stickers. Buffalo fans own up to losing. We got over our fear of failure some time ago. But, we didn’t lose in 1999. We were denied that chance.

3. Super Bowl XXVI: Second Chance, Second Loss

Sports don’t give you many second chances. Eighteen Bills’ starters from Super Bowl XXV had theirs the following year.

The previous year’s loss, the core of the team remaining essentially unchanged, the team once again having the best record in the AFC (13-3 both years)everything pointed to hope that if last year’s team was a Team of Destiny Denied, this year’s team was a Team of Destiny No Really For Real This Time.

If Harry Connick, Jr. singing the national anthem wasn’t a sign that things weren’t going to go as well as last year, the opening few moments were. The Bills’ new kicker flubbed the opening kick-off, prompting the refs to call it back for a retake (“Oh, he gets a do-over!” – Scott Norwood, probably).

Even that delay, plus the Giants’ ensuing possession, wasn’t enough time for Bills’ starting running back Thurman Thomas to find his helmet, so he missed the first drive. Really.

The Bills managed a few lucky breaks later in the first quarter, but after trading turnovers with the Redskins (neither team had any turnovers in the previous Super Bowl), the Bills’ luck ran out. Destiny quit, and fate took over.

Washington scored seventeen points in the second quarter to Buffalo’s zero, and it was all the Bills could do to cover up the damage and make the final score a respectable seven-point loss.

Buffalo Bills' quarterback Jim Kelly is pictured being sacked by two Washington Redskin players during Super Bowl 26
Buffalo Bills’ quarterback Jim Kelly (12) is sacked by Washington Redskins’ Fred Stokes (60) and James Geathers (97) during first quarter action in Super Bowl XXVI, at Minneapolis. Image via Ed Reinke/AP/Shutterstock.

This was more “crush” than “stun” for the fans and the city. Unlike the up-or-down, live-or-die moment of Super Bowl XXV, this was a straight-up old-school loss. And, it happened on the second chance, which is pretty much the final chance.

Buffalo Bills' wide receiver Andre Reed is seen throwing his helmet on the field in frustration while two giant Washington Redskins players walk in the opposite direction
Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver Andre Reed throws down his helmet on the sidelines after being called for offensive interference during second quarter action at Super Bowl XXVI, in Minneapolis. Image via Ed Reinke/AP/Shutterstock.

Unless, somehow, it wouldn’t be.

4. How to Win a Title, Step 1: Request a Trade Out of Buffalo

Detroit Red Wings' goalie Dominik Hasek holds the Stanley Cup over his head while skating around the ice after winning the game
Detroit Red Wings’ goalie Dominik Hasek, of the Czech Republic, carries the Stanley Cup after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 in Detroit, June 13, 2002. Image via Paul Sancya/AP/Shutterstock.

Buffalo sports fans have watched many of their favorite players lift the Vince Lombardi trophy or Lord Stanley’s Cup in victory. They just had to wait until those players were on a different team.

Even a non-exhaustive list would be pretty exhaustingemotionally for me and time-wise for you. I’ll just choose one that particularly stands out.

Dominik Hasek was a Buffalo Sabre for nine seasons, during which time he won a cabinet full of trophies, including the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. He was the first goalie to win the Hart in thirty-four years. Then, he won it again the following season, something no goaliebut a handful of guys with names like Gretzky, Howe, and Orrhad ever done.

Wanting to complete his collection, Hasek took a trade to the Detroit Red Wings, where he promptlyliterally, in his first season thereled them to a Stanley Cup.

Six years later, he did it again.

Detroit Red Wings' goalie Dominik Hasek is pictured drinking from the Stanley Cup in victory
Detroit Red Wings’ goalie Dominik Hasek drinks from the Stanley Cup held by Chris Chelios. Image via Jeff Kowalsky/EPA/Shutterstock.

No one ever thought less of him for wanting to leave, nor resented his quick success in Detroit.

“Siri, what is sangfroid?”

5. June 17, 1994: Buffalo’s Place in Sport’s Most Improbable Day

A Stanley Cup victory parade and Game 5 of the NBA Finals in New York City. The opening ceremony of the World Cup in Chicago. A golf and sporting legend playing his last round at the US Open. Ken Griffey, Jr. tying one of Babe Ruth’s records.

Had they happened on separate days, they each would have been the headline the next morning. But, they all happened on the same day, and none were the headline the next morning.

Every headline in the United States the next morningfront page and sportswas about the one thing not on the schedule for “the day sports collided”: O. J. Simpson’s slow-speed chase.

Fourteen years earlier, Simpson became the first player on the Buffalo Bills’ Wall of Honor, commemorating his rushing titles, records, and all-around beloved stature in the city stemming from his eight seasons with the Bills.

Buffalo Bills' O.J. Simpson is seen running down the football field with players falling at his waist side
Buffalo Bills’ O.J. Simpson rushes through a large hole in the center for the Detroit Lions’ defensive line to score on a 12-yard run for his second touchdown of the game in Pontiac, Michigan. Image via Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock.

And to think the most recent batch of headlines confirming Buffalo’s and the Bills’ status as the ultimate sad sports town and team had just started to fade, barely five months after . . .

6. Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII: Setting the Record No Team Wants

Karl Marx only saw the cycle of history through its first two go-aroundstragedy and then farce. Franz Kafka would be best-suited to pick up the thread for #’s 3 and 4. Or, he’d just give up and despair that he could never imagine the absurdity that would be Buffalo sports in the 1990s.

The Bills followed up the rarity of a second chance with an even rarer third chance, and then the unprecedented and still unmatched fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers never did it. Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys never did it. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots never did it. But those teams all won at least one of however many they strung together.

Johnson and the Cowboys, as it turns out, won two straight Super Bowls over the Billsthe first by thirty-five points and the second by seventeen points. Many years, many points, and many hopes beyond that wide right squeaker against the Giants.

At this point, what is there left to say? The Bills achieved one of the most incredible feats in sportsfour straight Super Bowl appearances. They also hold one of the most mind-bending records in sportsfour straight Super Bowl losses.

Is losing in Buffalo’s DNA? No. But, as with blizzards, we’ve certainly adapted and evolved to deal with it.

Buffalo Bills' running back Thurman Thomas being comforted on field by teammate Cornelius Bennett after missing a play against the Dallas Cowboys
Buffalo Bills’ running back Thurman Thomas (34) is comforted by teammate Cornelius Bennett (97) on the sidelines after Thomas was stripped of the ball by Dallas Cowboys’ Leon Lett during the third quarter of Super Bowl XXVIII, in Atlanta. Image via Bill Sikes/AP/Shutterstock.

What will we do if (dare I say “when?”) we follow the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs and overcome our sad ways? How will we handle winning a Super Bowl or Stanley Cup?

Or, what if we somehow land a Major League Baseball franchise (another dashed hope of the 1990s) and win the World Series, or an NBA team (we had an ABA teamthey’re now the LA Clippers!) and win the NBA?

Washington Bullets' Elvin Hayes running down the court along-side Buffalo Braves' Randy Smith who's handling the ball
Washington Bullets’ Elvin Hayes (l) is in perfect stride as he watches how Buffalo Braves’ Randy Smith handles the ball during a fast break in the first quarter of a playoff game in Buffalo. Image via Jim Mcknight/AP/Shutterstock.

Same thing we do when we losego crazy for our teams and eat a pile of wings.

Buffalo Bills' fans tailgating outside the stadium pose for the camera in front of a table of food
Fans tailgate before an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Image via Bill Wippert/AP/Shutterstock.

About Shutterstock’s Editorial Collection

The good news—Shutterstock’s editorial collection is hardly a sad place. It’s a place for live access to news, sports, and entertainment images, including (as you’ve seen here) a vast library of archival photos. 

Editorial content can be used in news articles, non-fiction books, documentaries, and other newsworthy purposes. Beyond their functionality, these images serve a larger purpose, reminding us of the past, informing us of the present, and helping us prepare for the future.

Cover image via Adrian Kraus/AP/Shutterstock.

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